Writing challenges; why do we do them? I know many people say writing is a challenge in itself. But that’s another story. What I’m talking about here are the formal challenges, where we give ourselves a target, whether it’s for a set number of words per day, or per month; for a completed piece per day; or simply to write something regularly over a set period of time. I tend to get involved in several each year, so I thought I’d try to analyse this somewhat strange and often stressful behaviour. And for anyone who wants to have a go, I’ve outlined some of my current favourites.
What And Why?
All these challenges have one thing in common. They are aimed at cultivating the habit of writing regularly. Whether we write full-time (I was going to say ‘for a living’ but that’s a very different and much rarer thing); aspire to do so, but currently fit it in around the day job; or simply write for fun when we feel like it, writing regularly is important. Musicians practice regularly; good musicians practice daily. Writers should be no different. But there are always other things to do; other tasks that are more enjoyable, or more pressing. I once heard a well-known author relate the story of ringing a friend of hers, a hugely successful crime writer, in the middle of the working day, only to be told she was busy ‘polishing the tea spoons’!
But for a challenge to be effective, it’s often not enough to decide to have a go. It’s helpful to tell other people we are doing it. That has a couple of benefits: it makes us part of a community of writers, all striving towards the same goal, and hence provides a basis for mutual encouragement or possibly friendly rivalry. And if we tell people about it, we then have more incentive to finish; so we can celebrate together at the end.
I love taking part in these challenges. It ensures I write every day; or if I don’t, I carry the target over and make up the day after. I am a lark, so get my writing done early each morning. And that makes me feel virtuous for the rest of the day. (Yes, I was always a girly swot at school, too.) But maybe the greatest benefit is that it all adds to the number of words in the cupboard. Whether it’s the first draft of a novel, or a whole raft of short stories ready for polishing and submission, it provides the raw material from which the finished product can be crafted.
And even if the target turns out to be too challenging, it always results in lots more words being written than might otherwise have been the case. And that can’t be a bad thing, now can it?
This is the best known of the challenges. Running throughout November each year, National Novel Writing Month has its own website, complete with fancy charts, badges, publicity material to download, and a thriving community of hundreds of thousands of writers worldwide. The task is to write 50K words in a month, which averages out at 1667 words per day. The classic approach is to write the first draft of a novel. But many ‘NaNo Rebels’ write short stories or non-fiction instead. There are at least four members of Chudleigh Writers’ Circle who have taken part in NaNoWriMo in the past.
100K In 100 Days
This is a smaller, UK-based challenge started by Sally Quilford and administered by Gerald Hornsby, which runs from 1st January to 10th April each year. There is a simple spreadsheet to update as you go along and the target is simply to finish 100,000 words in 100 days; an average of 1K per day makes this a more leisurely challenge than NaNoWriMo. There are no other rules, and no website, but a busy Facebook Group keeps the mutual support going throughout the period.
Advent Flash Calendar
This is a new one on me this year – and I have to admit to being several days behind. But I’m going to be playing around with the various triggers next week and hope to have a complete set of pieces by 24th December. It’s run out of FlashFlood website, associated with National Flash-Fiction Day which, as I’m sure you all know, is on Saturday 15th June next year. The triggers are fascinating and challenging; and provide lots of material for the 2019 event.
Over To You
So, which writing challenges do YOU take part in? Do you do it publicly or in private? And if you’ve not indulged so far, how about having a go in 2019?